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And their miserable time hasn't been confined to the tours of England and Australia. A better team than the West Indies might have exploited India's first-innings collapses at Kingston, Bridgetown and Delhi. A better team might not have let their number eight score a century when India were six down 259 behind at Mumbai. A better team than New Zealand might not have let India get away from 80/4 and 179/5 in reply to 365 at Bangalore. England, at the Wankhede, were that better team.

The bowlers have been no better in this period, having conceded 400-plus 10 times in 18 Tests. But India have seldom boasted potent attacks. Their recent travails probably stem from the same causes that have plagued them historically.

But the batting slump has been out of character. There are a number of probable causes. For one, the top six is in transition. The form of Dravid and Laxman waned as they approached their retirements, and Sachin Tendulkar seems to be going through a similar late dip.

The regression of Sehwag and Gambhir has been less explicable. If they build on the form they showed in Ahmedabad and Mumbai, they could build a platform for the recovery of India's collective batting mettle.

The rest haven't played enough Test cricket yet to warrant harsh judgment. But Pujara's promise does suggest that batsmen groomed from bottom up in the long format might be better prepared for Tests than those who have arrived from the U-19 World Cup, ODIs and the IPL.

The IPL has had an effect even on established names. Last year, Sehwag and Gambhir, carrying injuries, played the IPL but didn't go to the West Indies. Tendulkar missed that tour too. He was fit, but opted out to spend time with his family. He too had played the IPL. All three looked out of sorts in England. To compound matters, the Indians only played one tour game before the first Test.

... contd.

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